Sunday, October 21, 2018

Rudyard Kipling on Military Music

Mr Kipling's “Plea for Bands” is reprinted from The Times of London, 28 January 1915. (Courtesy The International Military Music Society)

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Mr Rudyard Kipling delivered an interesting speech yesterday at the Mansion House at a meeting promoted by the Recruiting Bands Committee and held with the object of raising bands in the London district as an aid to recruiting.

Mr Rudyard Kipling said - "I am not a musician, so if I speak as a barbarian I must ask you and several gentlemen on the platform here to forgive me. From the lowest point of view a few drums and fifes in the battalion means at least five extra miles in a route march, quite apart from the fact that they can swing a battalion back to quarters happy and composed in its mind, no matter how wet or tired its body may be. Even when there is no route marching, the mere come and go, the roll and flourishing of drums and fifes around the barracks is as warming and cheering as the sight of a fire in a room. A band, not necessarily a full band, but a band of a dozen brasses and wood-winds, is immensely valuable in the district where men are billeted. It revives memories, it quickens association, it opens and unites the hearts of men more surely than any other appeal can, and in this respect it aids recruiting perhaps more than any other agency. I wonder whether I should say this – the tunes that it employs and the words that go with that tune are sometimes very remote from heroism or devotion, but the magic and the compelling power is in them, and it makes men's souls realise certain truths that their minds might doubt.

Further, no one, not even the adjutant can say for certain where the soul of the battalion lives, but the expression of that soul is most often found in the band. (Cheers). It stands to reason that 1,200 men whose lives are pledged to each other must have some common means of expression, some common means of conveying their moods and their thoughts to themselves and their world. The band feels the moods and interprets the thoughts. A wise and sympathetic bandmaster - and the masters that I have met have been that -can lift a battalion out of depression, cheer it in sickness, and steady and recall it to itself in times of almost unendurable stress. (Cheers). I remember in India in a cholera camp, where the men were suffering very badly, the band of the 10th Lincolns started a regimental sing-song and went on with that queer, defiant tune "The Lincolnshire Poacher". It was their regimentel march that the men had heard a thousand times. There was nothing in it - nothing except all England, all the East Coast, all the fun and daring and horseplay of young men bucketing about big pastures in the moonlight. But as it was given very softly at that bad time in that terrible camp of death, it was the one thing in the world that could have restored as it did restore shaken men back to their pride, humour, and self-control" (Cheers).

Sir F Bridge said that what was wanted was a band that would play good rousing march tunes such as he remembered in Rochester when the 18th Royal Irish were setting out for the Crimean War, after badly damaging six policemen the night before. (Laughter).

With £1,000 a week they ought to have twenty good bands to provide good old tunes like "Tipperary", "Ninety-five" and "Rory O'More".

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